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Art. I. Leatures on the universal Principles and Duties of Religion and
Morality, as they have been read in Margaret-Street, Cavendith-
Subscription il. 15. 1779.
racter and principles, that we should be tempted to pay a particular attention to him on that account; fuppofing he were even more deficient, than we imagine him to be, in qualities of higher importance and estimation.
The introduction to this curious performance opens with a definition of insanity. We did not immediately perceive the Author's design in setting off so oddly. We doubted not, however, of jome design, at the bottom : Mr. Williams seldom fays or does any thing, even in the moments of the purest fimplicity, without some reason.
It appears then, that \Ir. Williams gives his Readers a definition of insanity, for the sole purpole of convincing them that he himself, however extraordinary, is not mad. "The institution of a form of public worship (lays he) on those principles which arise immediately froid nature, in a community where almost every thing in morals, religion and polity, are decided upon by authority :---the resolution of a man to be the author of it, who doth not covet fufferings, and has not the dispositions of a martyr:-the idea of leaving the plan to suc. ceed by its merits in a country where every thing is rendered fuccessful by money or protection :--these have been urged as proofs of insanity: and perhaps they may be. But the application of them to me hath been owing to an unacquaintance with the following facts, which imply the history of an institution of public worship on the universal principles of morals.' Vol. LXII.
« I quitted ' I quitted the customary offices of the profession to which I was educated, for reasons which have been already afligned [viz. in the Appendix to the second edition of Essays on public Worship). But either because religion is essential to the human mind; or because the habits of a profession are, like all others, very difficult to be suspended-I could not rest satisfied out of my employment. On intimating my situation, I had hopes given me of the most Aattering encouragement. But on seeing my plan extended beyond the limits of the Christian church [i. e. seeing the plan was purely a deislical one—as the Author hould have said in plain language), they were withdrawn, and my papers were put up: for I had none of the views of Re. formers and Apostles: and it was my intention not to engage, until it appeared to be for the service and pleasure of others, as well as my own.'
This confession is a very frank one: and we give him full and unreserved credit for the truth of it. The children of light are not always wise in their generation. But Mr. Williams, who had renounced all pretensions to their character, was resolved not to act on their plan. The heroic pason of soulsaving (as Lord Shaftesbury ironically termed it) mingled not with his principles, and had no share at all in the institution in Margaret-Street.' Aos 5wGive me where to stand (as Mr. Williams might be supposed to say) — But I will have solid ground: or I will lock up all my in ruments. I have not the wings of the Apostles. I cannot work by their faith; nor Jive on their hopes.'
But though Mr. Williams did not chuse to venture his bot-' tom on the fanciful stocks of reformation, nor to launch his vellel, like a visionary Apostle, into the air ;-though he wilhed like a prudent man of this generation, to serve and please himself as well as other people; yet he recoils at the idea of having his plan injurioully degraded,' by seeing it clafled amongit • the unadvised projects of an individual for his own emolument and advantage.'
After reprobating the designs of fanatics and missionaries, in their attempts to reíorm churches and kingdoms, he tells his Readers, that his business hath not any thing in common with such designs. The liturgy on the universal Principles of Religion and Morality, was first intended as a gratification and pleasure to a small number of persons who could worship on no other; to be publicly used, on the supposition that it would afford the same gratification and pleasure to great numbers in the same circumstances, and bring me some recompense for my trouble in using it.
• When the design was made public, the expectations entertained by some, and the apprehensions of others, were equally
ill-founded and extravagant. Nay, the opinions formed on the steps which have been hitherto taken, are not the most judicious. Experiments may be to the public as fallacious as fables: they often occafion as many errors, and are always expected to prove too much. If the Institution in Margaret-Street were only to prove, that a liturgy may be drawn up, on principles which all mankind acknowledge, and may be used without offence, even to sectaries and bigots, it would deserve confideration and resped. A bilhop quitting his diocese, and attended by both Houses of Parliament, in the same experiment, might have given it more eclat, but not more certainty. In the present case, it is a discovery made by a private man, at some risque, and at some expence. It holds up to the world a fact which hath at all times been deemed incredible; the importance of which to morals and policy may be understood, when men raise their thoughts from the elementary to the intellectual world; and the benefits which may be enjoyed in future by persons who might not have undergone the apprehenfions, anxieties, and inconveniencies by which it hath been ascertained.
· That good men of all nations and all religions :-that believers in Moses, Christ, and Mahomet, Free-thinkers, Deists, and even Atheists, who acknowledge beneficent principles in nature, may unite in a form of public worship, on all the great and most important truths of piety and morality, can no more be a question : for it is demonstrated; not by the arts of logic, or the declamations of oratory in books, but by a stated, public service, to which any man may have recourse for satisfaction.'
Mr. Williams proceeds to state the use of his discovery for the benefit of preachers and politicians. The principal use arises from the freedom of communication, which, as he observes, constitutes the bonds by which all associations, all clubs, and all parties, are held together.' In the illustration of this profound remark, the Author hath thrown out hints which seem to mean something; but we acknowledge ourselves unable to get to the bottom of them. And in truth they must be very deep!-quite out of common reach, fince several persons,' he informs us, eminent for their knowledge in the present science of politics, have not understood him.'
For our parts, we see nothing very extraordinary in this Gentleman's experiments or discoveries. Whether it be, that our · thoughts are not yet raised from the elementary to the intellectual world,' or that we have yet some little predilection remaining for Christianity, or from whatever cause it may arise, we presume not to determine ; but we must acknowledge, that we cannot see the great utility of this project (confessidly a Utopian one) of uniting the most heterogenous parties, from the orthodox believer down to the speculative Atheist. No plan of
worship, however vague, equivocal, or comprehensive; car
Mr. Williams's capital miftake lies in fupposing, that what holds good in society at large, holds equally good in a religious community; and that nothing ought to bound the one which doib not limit the other : but he concludes too haftily, from premises that will be granted by very few, whether believers or infidels.
In the support of civil life, the moft opposite professions of religion may be united for the common good by univerfal principles. Here, even the Atheist may be a useful member. He may be such on the ground of felf-love. Society hath no farther claims on him, than it may possibly be for his own interest to obey. The laws of civil life ought then to be as comprehenfive as the good of society will admit: and Government acts a wise, as well as a benevolent part, when it applies all its members to the best ufe, and makes even the most diffimilar proferfions adminifter to the general welfare and peace of the community. These maxims of policy were unknown to, or event unheeded by our forefathers. They imagined, that toleration, instead of lessening, would encrease diffentions in the fate :-that good subjects, and good churchmen meant the same thing, and could not be disunited without the ruin of both characters. To preserve their alliance, the Act of Uniformity was passed. A fair trial was made of this project. We know how it succeeded,
As to Mr. Williams's project--which he hath now extended, by a fingular act of grace, to the utmost extreme of infidelity, we do not, on the most serious reflection we can form of it, see its absolute necessity, or even its fingular utility, on the broad ground of civil polity. The ftate hath faved all the trouble; and by mutual indulgence, dependence, and obligation, allowed and strengthened by Government, all the ends of political life are fufficiently secured and provided for: Now these, we apprehend, are Mr. Williams's sole objects.
Religion, that derives its capital motives from the Omnisci. ence of the Deity, and ends not in a momentary glow of admiration, excited by a view of the works of nature, but looks
forwards to a future state, can be no part of an institution which includes Atheists in the number of its votaries.
Mr. Williams acknowledges, that ' it is not material to his purpose, whether the Atheist exclude the word, God, from his religious dialect, and ascribe all we fee to nature, necessity, or chance-ic is the character only of necellity, of chance, or of the deified forms of human imagination, which can affect us.'
Undoubtedly words, in themselves, are of little consequence. It is the ideas they excite that are principally to be attended to. Now, we ask, What idea the most speculative and metaphyfical Atheist can be supposed to allocate with the word, CHANCE? Or on what ground it can be imagined he Mould pay any adoration to the character of Chance? Or what effect the contemplation of is can poliibly have in improve ing his mind and morals? How, we ask, can the Atheist, who ascribes the productions of the universe, and all the operations of nature, to Chance, regard this original cause, as an object of delight, gratitude, and virtuous resolutions,' (as Mr. Williams expresses himselt)' or with any intention to act, in his little sphere, in fome degree, according to the great principle he hath becn contemplating :'-To adore Chance to be grateful to Chan.c, are folecisirs thocking to common sense, and whicn cannot be reconciled, even by the ingenuity of Mr. Williams. Perhaps he may tell us, that we do not understand him: but, in cur view, nothing can throw a stronger ridicule on his all-comprehensive inftitution, than by fuppofing a number of perlons a:lembled in Margaret Street, to join in devotion and thankliving-ome to God-fome to Nature- a third clafs to Necesi:y, and a fourth to Chance :--some to a Principle allperfect and all-wilc: and others, to a Being whole works they Imagine are not always as they might be: and are not ordered according to their ideas of perfect wisdom and goodness.' Yet Mr. Williams is ready to accommodate them all: and does not see any good reason why those fceptics, who are ready to find fault with the ways of God, should not yet adore him: for, putting himself in their fituation, and fuppofing that he had inbibed their principles, - yet (says he) as it is wonderful that things should be as well as they are, and that in the fum of existence, there should be so much happiness as to make it defirable-this would claim my relpectful attention-and this attention would be all the religion of which I thould be capable.
“ Now this is worshipiul society,"--as Shakespeare, the true “priest of nature,” humorously finys : - where folks may adore God, or adore without a Godi where they may afcend on Plan tonic pinions to the * 10 wahov
The first good, first perfect, and first fair:".
See Williains's Moito.